Confrontation builds after mine disasters

The mine co-owner is challenged at a funeral.

Associated Press
Published August 22, 2007

HUNTINGTON, Utah - With six trapped coal miners all but left for dead in a crumbling mountain, families and friends vented their frustration at the mine's owner Tuesday and asked: Was it too dangerous to be working there in the first place?

At a funeral Tuesday for one of the three rescue workers killed, a friend of one of the trapped miners confronted mine co-owner Bob Murray and accused him of skimping on the rescue efforts. He then handed Murray a dollar bill.

"This is just to help you out so you don't kill him," the man said.

Murray's head snapped back as if slapped. When the man wouldn't take back the bill, Murray threw the money on the ground. "I'll tell you what, son, you need to find out about the Lord," Murray said.

It was an emotional exchange with an owner who had insisted that rescue of the miners was his top priority since the collapse Aug. 6. And it revealed more than just the frustration of people in this mining community in central Utah's coal belt, where most still speak in whispers when criticizing the officials whose businesses pay their bills.

Critics are now openly calling the mine a disaster waiting to happen and pointing fingers at Murray Energy Corp. and the federal government as the agents of the tragedy.

Miners' advocates have accused the Mine Safety and Health Administration in recent years of being too accommodating to the industry at the expense of safety. And they say MSHA was too quick to approve the mining plan at Crandall Canyon, despite concerns that it was too dangerous for mining to continue when Murray bought the place a year ago.

"No one took the time to see that it was a recipe for disaster," Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, said Tuesday.

Since his brother went missing in the mine, Steve Allred said he's received many phone calls from people who said mine conditions were unsafe.

"They tell me that they knew people that was very, very concerned about the conditions in that mine, the bounces, everything," said Allred, brother of trapped miner Kerry Allred.

Four test holes drilled into the mountain have not detected signs of life, and have shown there is little breathable air in the mine. A fifth test hole was expected to be completed this morning, but officials said they did not expect any good news.